Southwest Florida: Prime real estate dating back to the 1500s
Do you remember learning about Ponce De Leon in your history class? Well, he never discovered the “Fountain of Youth” that he heard about from the natives in what is now Puerto Rico, but he did discover Florida in the early 1500’s on a search for gold, jewels and the mythical fountain. During that voyage he landed somewhere near Punta Rassa which is very close to where the bridge goes from the mainland out to Sanibel/Captiva Island. When he landed he encountered the Calusa Indian Tribe. This tribe had inhabited the area along the coast of SW Florida for several thousand years and their population had grown to an estimated 50,000. The Calusa were tall and muscular and were described a fierce, war-like people. They got most of their food from fish and shellfish which they caught along the coast and waterways. Their chief town is thought to be Mound Key in Estero Bay which is made almost entirely of shells and clay. The Spanish thinking that the Calusa were a threat, attacked them and killed a large group of the tribe. Still, Ponce was very interested in the area and returned to Spain where the King granted him control of the entire area of Florida.
In 1521, Ponce de Leon put together a group of ships and returned to the area and landed somewhere along the coast of SW Florida with settlers to form a Colony. The group was savagely attacked by the Calusa who did not forget about what happened 8 years earlier. A large number of Spanish were killed during this battle. Ponce was seriously wounded by an Indian arrow and fled to Cuba hoping to recover. Unfortunately he was unable to recover and died there in July of 1521.
After the death of Ponce de Leon, aside from a few missionaries that attempted to convert the Calusa, there was little colonization of the SW Florida area since no one wanted to confront the Calusa. It wasn’t until the middle 1700’s, more than two centuries later, that other tribes began invading the Calusa and capturing them for slavery in the north. During this time many of the villages were totally wiped out by small pox and measles that were brought in by the Europeans for which the Calusa had no immunity. By 1800 this once great tribe was reduced to very few many of whom migrated to Cuba.
During the late 1700s the coastal areas of Lee County became a base of operation for pirates that regularly raided cargo ships that were traveling to New Orleans. Then in 1821, Florida became a U.S. Territory. As late as the 1820’s SW Florida was a wilderness inhabited by other Indian tribes, pirates and runaway slaves from the Southeast US.
I hope you enjoyed your lesson; I’ll always be a teacher at heart. I love to teach as much as I enjoy selling real estate!
Bullen, Adelaide K (1965) “Florida Indians Past and Present”
Fusion, Robert. Juan Ponce de Leon and the Spanish Discovery of Puerto Rico and Florida, Blacksburg: McDonald and Woodward, 2000.
The Calusa: “The Shell Indains”. A Short History of Florida. University of South Florida.